The Beginning's End + Part 18 (cont)

I feel my anger mounting. Why won't he give me a straight answer?

We arrive at Trowa's new room to find that they've been busy. In seconds, they've already got the bed settled, two of them are running IVs into his arm, another is attaching the monitors. The rest are wheeling odd-looking machines around, wrapping things around his arms, pressing other things against his skin…doing weird hospital stuff.

I hate hospitals. They make me very nervous. The more they do the more Trowa looks like some sad little doll, this pathetic little creature they're running their experiments on.

The nurses begin calling out messages in code when the doctor enters.

"Sterile cart ready, doctor."

"Temp. almost one-oh-four, doctor."

"BP reading 140 over 90, doctor."

"Pulse elevated as well, doctor."

Rushton growls and pushes his way through the flock of nurses to Trowa's bedside.

"IVs running, doctor."

OK. He's a doctor. We know it, they know it, he knows it. These medical types are worse than military types.

"Thank you. You can all leave," Rushton says tersely.

Obviously this was not the order they were expecting. They stop fluttering around Trowa and stare at Rushton. Some of their mouths hang open in astonishment.

"If I need you, I'll call," Rushton says decisively, his tone heavy with warning. "Thank you."

This time they take the hint, turning and moving slowly to the door, casting surprised looks at him over their shoulder. Before they're even out the door some of them have their heads pressed together, whispering their amazement at the doctor's unorthodox actions.

Women.

I turn my head and see Wufei, his brows raised in astonishment, mouthing some question at Heero, who raises his hands and shrugs in a gesture signifying his own bewilderment.

Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the feminine gender.

"You!" the doctor barks. I look up, startled, and see him staring at me.

"Come here," he orders sharply.

I approach the bed, moving to the side opposite the one the doctor is standing on. The small cart covered with various bottles and bandages is beside me.

"I want you to see this," Rushton tells me. His stares at me unflinchingly, and his brown eyes, which I remember as mild and humorous, are hard and angry. "He wouldn't want me showing you this, but I think you need to see it."

He unties the back of the flimsy gown Trowa is clad in, pulling the material aside to expose the heavy mass of bandages covering his injured back. The doctor mutters under his breath as I stare at the bandages, perplexed at the pale crimson stains marring the snowy whiteness. It can't be…

"I knew it," Rushton growls. "I just knew it." Carefully, he begins to peel away the layers of bandages. They come off slowly, each layer damper, each layer stickier, each layer redder than the one before. Blood. The bandages are covered with blood. Trowa's blood.

"He's still…the bleeding hasn't stopped yet?" I manage.

Rushton glances up at me, his gaze piercing. "It had stopped," he tells me, emphasizing the past tense. "It's started up again."

"Why? What made it start again?" I demand.

Rushton stares hard at me another moment, but doesn't reply. "I want you to look at this," he says instead. "Look hard." He peels away the last layer of bandages, exposing Towa's back.

I cry out as he exposes the raw, bloody flesh. It looks…the same. I thought it would be healed up some, scabbed over…something. The clumps of gore that had clung to it the first time are gone, of course, and it looks like the infection has gone, but other than that…It still doesn't look like a human back. The gashes are still there, overlapping each other to the point where it's virtually impossible to separate them from each other. Blood is smeared over the entire surface, and several places are oozing more of the red fluid.

"It isn't any better," I say stupidly, staring at Trowa's injuries.

"Actually, it is," the doctor says quietly. "If that gives you any idea of how bad it was."

"But why…why hasn't it…"

The doctor sighs. The sound is tired. "The magnitude of this injury is what makes it so overwhelming," he explains. As he speaks, he gestures peremptorily toward certain objects on the cart beside me. I hand each object to him in turn, and he begins to carefully clean Trowa's injuries. "Normally, if you have a cut or a gash, and it bleeds, your body sends white blood cells to combat any possible infection or bacteria entering from the point of injury. These cells accumulate and die, and clog up the wound. That accumulation of cells is what's called a scab. They prevent anything from entering, and help the injury to heal. But they can form because they use the skin on either side of the injury as walls, if you will, and the scab is the bridge or dam holding them together. In this case…" he pauses, staring at the torn flesh under his hands, "there is nothing for a scab to build on. The cells just bleed away. There's nothing, Mr. Maxwell," he stresses, glancing up at me for a moment.

I say nothing. What is there to say? It certainly doesn't make me feel any better to realize how incredibly I'd misjudged the seriousness of Trowa's wounds.

"All of the tissue, all of the skin has to regenerate," he continues relentlessly. "It all has to re-grow completely, and that takes a very, very long time."

I feel my anger mount again as I continue to stare. This time, I'm not angry at the doctor. I'm angry at Barton, and that's useless. He's dead.

"I don't think you understand the enormity of these injuries," the doctor is saying.

Ok, maybe I am still angry at the doctor. "I understand," I snap. "I know how…"

"I don't think you do!" the doctor interrupts in a half-shout. I stop arguing, amazed at this show of temper from the mild-mannered doc.

"Look. Listen," he orders, visibly reining in his temper.

I look and listen, unable to disobey, as he shows me particulars of the injuries Trowa suffered. I watch him trace particularly deep or painful gashes. He points out one that nicked a nerve, and describes for me in vivid detail the pain that is experienced when nerves are damaged. He explains what would have happened if one particular gash had been an eighth of an inch deeper, if this one had been a millimeter to the right, if this one had curved upwards instead of downwards. In a completely emotionless voice, he informs me that, by his best calculations, if the beating had continued for another ten to twenty seconds, Trowa would be dead.

"Why are they bleeding again?" I ask. I have to restart the question twice. My mouth is too dry to speak.

"Help me bandage this," he orders instead of answering my question. I'm too numb to argue. I'm too overwhelmed by the enormity of Trowa's pain. I knew before how badly he was hurt, but I didn't…well, I guess I didn't know. I thought it was like…like all the times one or the other of us has been hurt. Maybe we'll be unconscious for a little while, then we wake up grouchy and cranky and determined to go. It might hurt for awhile, but it's nothing we can't deal with.

This is something different. This isn't a bone to set or a concussion to deal with or a burn to keep uncovered.

"As for his other injuries…," the doctor stops. "Well, you're not looking at them," he declares brusquely after a moment. "He would be humiliated enough to know that I showed you what I have showed you." I catch the implicit warning. Don't tell him. Don't worry, doc.

True to his word Rushton doesn't show me, but he paints a vivid picture for me of the other injuries Trowa still bears. He tells me of the tears, the contusions, the internal injuries he suffered from the abuse they heaped on him. By the time he's done my eyes are smarting from tears I'm trying to hold back, and the doctor has had to move around so he can reach the cart himself. I hear small sounds of shock behind me, and I know that Wufei and Heero are reacting to the news the same way I am.

"I wish he wasn't dead," I mutter, unable to bear the helplessness I feel. "I'd kill him again. I'd…"

"There, Mr. Maxwell, is the crux of our problem," the doctor declares in a hard voice.

I blink the moisture away from my eyes, suddenly wary. Something in his tone warns me there's even worse to come.

Dr. Rushton has finished bandaging Trowa's back, and he moves away from the bad. He folds his arms across his chest, and glares at us all impartially. "We need to clear up a few things, and set a few ground rules," he declares. "Otherwise, you're all out of here until he can walk out and see you himself."

"I'd like to see you try to keep me out," I bristle. "You can't…"

"Oh yes I can," he interrupts. "I don't care who's in charge elsewhere on this base, but this medical wing is mine. Don't try me, Mr. Maxwell," he warns. He stands his ground calmly under my furious glare, and when I force myself to remain silent, he continues.

"I've shown you the extent of his injuries," he begins. "I want you to understand that, while they are extremely painful on their own, any other movement exacerbates that pain immensely. It is excruciating for him every time we clean and rebandage his back, yet he never makes a sound, hardly moves at all the entire time." He pauses, shaking his head. "I can't imagine how much it must have hurt to roll onto his side, much less stand up and get dressed and sit in a chair waiting for you all. He wanted to appear as normal as possible. He didn't want you to be worrying about him."

I wince, feeling the guilt those words were meant to provoke. He was trying to make things easier for us. How…Trowa.

"It worried him a lot, to be here while the rest of you were in danger," the doctor is saying. "He believed, though, that the sacrifices that he had undergone to get to you, to warn you of what you might face, would help keep you safe. He believed that you would be as careful of yourselves as he was of you."

I peer closely at the doctor. Either he has ESP, or Trowa has been a lot more communicative with Rushton then he ever has been with anyone before in his life. Maybe he drugged him up and forced some confessions.

Rushton sees the question in my eyes. "I have spoken with Mr. Winner," he begins.

Oh. Mr. Winner. Mr. ‘I'm a bad boy and it's my fault Duo died' Winner. Mr. ‘breaking down in hysterical tears when he sees me and begging at the top of his lungs for forgiveness' Winner. Mr. ‘I need a confessor' Winner. Looks like he found one.

"He told me what happened at the battle," he clarifies.

"Look, doc, I'm sorry if you disapprove of what we did, but…" I begin hotly.

"I'm not judging you for that," he interrupts. "I know nothing of battle. I don't know what I'd do in your place. I'm not…I'm not sorry that the man who caused those injuries that I've been trying to repair is dead," he admits. He sounds pained. I guess it's hard for a doctor to wish away any life. I can't really understand that, but I can respect it, I think.

"What I do know is that your actions have had an extremely detrimental effect on my patient," he declares bluntly.

"My actions?" I blurt out. "What the hell did I do? I was trying to protect him, trying to…"

"If his safety were your real concern, you'd have eliminated the problem immediately," the doctor corrects me calmly.

Eliminated the problem. He's been with the military too long.

"Instead, you sought revenge. For yourself," he clarifies. "Ignoring the fact that you could be killed, choosing not to examine the possible consequences, completely disregarding the possible damage that you could be causing Trowa."

Ouch. He doesn't beat around any bushes, does he?

"His fever was down. His back had almost stopped bleeding independently, to the extent where we weren't supplying him with transfusions anymore. His room had been transferred." Rushton pauses, letting this sink in.

"Then came the news that you were dead. That would have put him back into shock. Shock elevates adrenaline, the heart rate and the blood pressure. It would also have triggered feelings of grief, guilt and despair, all of which have immensely detrimental effects on the body. Then, hours later, the discovery that you are alive." Rushton looks at each of us in turn. "Good news, this time. But still, another shock. More of the physical effects caused by that state. Too much, too quickly. I doubt that I would be wrong in guessing that neither of these pieces of news were broken to him gently," he adds dryly.

I wince. I wanted to surprise him. I thought…I was pleased that I would be able to make a dramatic entrance.

I'm such an idiot.

"In his injured state, this was all too much for him to cope with," Rushton finishes. "His blood pressure increased dramatically, causing the wounds on his back to begin bleeding again. The emotional pressure played havoc with his physical systems, pushing his fever up, further weakening him. He's unconscious again, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he's out for a good length of time."

I close my eyes. I did this. Sure, Barton caused the injuries. But this relapse is my fault. Just like Rushton said, I caused it with my carelessness and overconfidence and grandstanding.

"Mission accomplished, doc," I say tightly. "I'm an ass."

"I don't want you to feel like an ass," he replies flatly, but his voice has a milder edge than before. "I just want you to realize that Trowa is very badly hurt. I, frankly, am amazed that he's alive. It's astounding that he made it back here at all, and, to tell you the truth, as much as I tried to be optimistic, I half expected that he would die of these injuries in the first few days he was here." He sighs, looking very tired. When he speaks again, his voice is earnest. "You also need to realize the effect your actions will have on him. You need to know that he's likely to react to things differently than usual, and that you have to be careful of what you do and how you do it." He stares directly at me. "You have to think about what you're doing. Do you understand?"

I jerk my head up and down. My God. I hurt him.

"Now. You can stay here," Rushton tells me with the air of graciously allowing me a favor. "Be quiet. Don't try to wake him up. If he does wake up - which it is very unlikely he will do for a while - don't excite him. And for God's sake," he finishes acerbically, "don't lift him up and jostle him around and jar his injuries like you did before. He won't be up for that kind of thing for awhile." He sobers even more. "Physically, that is. Emotionally, it might take even longer for him to recover from the effects of…"

"Thank you, doc," I interrupt. I've had enough. I won't discuss that with this man who, despite how helpful he has been and how well-meaning he is, is still a stranger.

Rushton nods. Apparently, even though he's pissed at me, he still knows how far is too far. "I'll be in to check on him soon," he says quietly. "Remember what I said."

And he's gone. That's what we call a strategic withdrawal.

The three of us stare awkwardly at each other for awhile. "I'll…I'll go guard the door," Wufei says after a moment.

I sigh, shaking my head. "Why don't you go find Quatre," I suggest. "Sounds like he unloaded his guilt feelings all over the doctor. I doubt he got much sympathy," I remark, attempting a grin. "Go find him."

Wufei nods tightly and heads for the door.

"Wufei!" I call after him.

"Tell him…Tell him it isn't his fault," I ask when he turns around to look at me. "Tell him it's my own fault. I'm a big boy." Wufei stares at me for a moment, gives the barest of nods, and is gone as well.

Left alone with Heero I stare at him, unable to formulate a single thing to say. Very slowly, he moves closer to me and carefully wraps his arms around me, holding me loosely. I sigh, and lower my forehead onto his shoulder.

"It's my fault too," he says after a moment. "I don't want you to…I know what the doctor said, but it isn't all your fault."

"I was the one who had to take my time roughing Barton up," I say bitterly. "Then I had to hot-shot in here, making a famous Maxwell entrance and…"

"Well, I wasn't exactly suave," Heero interrupts.

I pull back slightly. "What do you mean?" I frown, noting the flush of embarrassment across his cheeks.

"Well, I didn't break the news very smoothly," he begins lamely. "Then…well, he yelled at me. I yelled back. I told him…" He clears his throat. "He said it was my fault you died. I told him it was his fault. He tried to slug me. I grabbed him and dragged him down. Then, I…"

"Stop," I groan, lowering my head back to his chest. "Enough. I can't hear the rest of it now."

"I'm sorry," he says quietly.

Well, there's a red letter day. Admission of emotional wrong-doing from Heero Yuy.

"Don't be sorry, Hee-chan," I answer, turning my head to look up at him again. "We're just both stupid, I guess," I grin.

His mouth twists wryly. I guess that doesn't make him feel better.

"Anyway," I sigh, looking around the small room. "I guess we'd better get comfy. We can practice while we wait," I suggest.

"Practice what?" Heero frowns.

I smirk ruefully at him as I seat myself. "Being sensitive," I declare with gloomy relish.

Heero grimaces. "Well," he remarks after a moment, staring pointedly at my position in the room's only chair, "It'll be harder for some of us than others."

TBC

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